Photograph: Guillermo Maestro CasadoPhotograph: Guillermo Maestro CasadoPhotograph: Guillermo Maestro CasadoPhotograph: Guillermo Maestro CasadoPhotograph: Guillermo Maestro Casado


Name of Monument:

Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca

Location:

Toledo, Spain

Date of Monument:

First half of the 13th century. Renaissance additions between 1550 and 1556

Period / Dynasty

Mudéjar

Description:

Toledo, the city of three religions, has since Muslim times had an independent, walled quarter, the madinat al-yahud or city of the Jews, known as the Judería Mayor in the late Middle Ages. It is one of the best known in Castile and it existed as such until the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. Documentary references speak of the existence of synagogues in Toledo, and this was undoubtedly one of them, consecrated as a Christian church in 1401 and dedicated to St Mary the White after an effigy of the White Virgin in the cathedral.
The artistic features, which find parallels in Almohad work, date to the first half of the 13th century. There has been much discussion as to whether it belongs to Almohad or Mudéjar art, and current analysis links it with the latter. J. Amador de los Ríos mooted its possible construction in the second half of the 12th century, before 1205, which fits with the renovation of the plasterwork in 1275, the year some plasterwork was executed in the Huelgas Convent in Burgos, with which it shares important similarities.
The exterior is simple with plain walls, but the interior gives one the thrilling impression of being in the East. The dimensions are deceptive: its length of 26–28 m and width of 19–23 m, divided into five parallel naves separated by a forest of 32 octagonal columns, give an illusion of spaciousness. Its architectural layout is basilical with a slightly irregular rectangular floor plan. The naves are separated by circular horseshoe arches, an Islamic tradition. The fairly low capitals are made of stucco and decorated with enormous pinecones whose ochre colour contrasts strongly with the white of the shafts and the walls. The restoration process undertaken several years ago revealed that not all of these are original. On and around the arches, delicate ornamentation covers the faces, harmoniously combining vegetal and geometric motifs, with the medallions decorated with different knotwork designs being particularly noteworthy. Czekelius (see Bibliography) explains that the arcades that run along the top of the naves are not simply decoration on the dividing walls, but a way of mimicking apertures closed simply with plaster and wattle or thin walls. The synagogue was longer on the western side, and the wall that is now the façade is simply the former women's gallery with the openings filled in. The two buttresses that appear on the façade as a continuation of the central nave mark the springing point of the arch that used to span the gallery. The naves, of decreasing height, have simple collar-beam roofs, which are doubtless recent copies of the original structures.
A sanctuary consisting of three chapels with Renaissance decoration on the inside was added between 1550 and 1556, thought to be the work of Alonso de Covarrubias.

View Short Description

A unique building, being a synagogue laid out like a mosque and finally converted into a Christian church. The layout, pillars, horseshoe arches and plasterwork friezes decorated with interlacing patterns reflect the Almohad style. Artistically, the use of capitals unprecedented in Muslim art is particularly noteworthy, decorated with interlaced carvings forming pinecones. This suggests the work of a Mudéjar craftsman familiar with Almohad art, who was either open to other artistic influences or a great innovator.

How Monument was dated:

Stylistic parallels between its plasterwork and that of the Huelgas Convent in Burgos, documented in 1275.

Selected bibliography:

Amador de los Ríos, J., El Estilo Mudéjar en Arquitectura, 1872; facsimile edition, Valencia, 1996, p.21.
Cantera Burgos, F., Sinagogas de Toledo, Segovia y Córdoba, Madrid, 1973, pp.35–47.
Czekelius, O., “Antiguas Sinagogas de España”, Arquitectura, XII, 1931; facsimile edition, Madrid, 1992.
López Guzmán, R., Arquitectura Mudéjar: Del Sincretismo Medieval a las Alternativas Hispanoamericanas, Madrid, 2000, pp.177–9.
Pérez Higuera, T., “Sinagoga de Santa María la Blanca”, in Arquitecturas de Toledo, Vol. I: Del Romano al Gótico (co-ord. D. Peris Sánchez), Toledo, 1992, pp.369–81.
Mudéjar Art: Islamic Aesthetics in Christian Art,pp.202–3.

Citation of this web page:

Ángela Franco "Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. 2018. http://www.discoverislamicart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;es;Mon01;27;en

Prepared by: Ángela FrancoÁngela Franco

Ángela Franco es Jefa del Departamento de Antigüedades Medievales en el Museo Arqueológico Nacional.
Obtuvo el Grado de Doctor por la Universidad Complutense de Madrid con la tesis Escultura gótica en León y provincia, premiada y publicada parcialmente (Madrid, 1976; reed. León, 1998); y la Diplomatura en Paleografía y Archivística por la Scuola Vaticana di Paleografia, Diplomatica e Archivistica, con la tesis L'Archivio paleografico italiano: indici dei manoscritti, publicada en castellano (Madrid, 1985). Becas de investigación: beca posdoctoral del Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Academia Española de Bellas Artes de Roma (1974-75); beca posdoctoral del Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Academia Española de Bellas Artes de Roma (1975-77); beca de la Fundación Juan March de Madrid (1978).
Tiene en su haber 202 publicaciones, fundamentalmente sobre arte medieval cristiano, en especial la iconografía: Crucifijo gótico doloroso, Doble Credo, Danzas de la Muerte, temática bíblica en relación con la liturgia (el Génesis y el Éxodo en relación con la vigilia Pascual) o con el teatro (Secundum legem debet mori, sobre el “pozo de Moisés” de la cartuja de Dijon). Es autora de cuatro catálogos monográficos del Museo Arqueológico Nacional, entre ellos el de Dedales islámicos (Madrid, 1993), y de publicaciones sobre escultura gótica y pintura en la catedral de León y sobre escultura gótica en Ávila, así como de numerosas fichas para catálogos de exposiciones.
Ha participado en innumerables congresos nacionales e internacionales, presentando ponencias y mesas redondas, y ha dirigido cursos y ciclos de conferencias. Es Secretaria de Publicaciones en el Museo Arqueológico Nacional desde 1989.

Copyedited by: Rosalía AllerRosalía Aller

Rosalía Aller Maisonnave, licenciada en Letras (Universidad Católica del Uruguay), y en Filología Hispánica y magíster en Gestión Cultural de Música, Teatro y Danza (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), ha obtenido becas de la Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional y la Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia de Madrid, así como el Diplôme de Langue Française (Alliance Française), el Certificate of Proficiency in English (University of Cambridge) y el Certificado Superior en inglés y francés (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Madrid). Profesora de Estética de la Poesía y Teoría Literaria en la Universidad Católica del Uruguay, actualmente es docente de Lengua Castellana y Literatura en institutos de Enseñanza Secundaria y formación del profesorado en Madrid. Desde 1983, ha realizado traducción y edición de textos en Automated Training Systems, Applied Learning International, Videobanco Formación y El Derecho Editores. Integra el equipo de Museo Sin Fronteras desde 1999 y ha colaborado en la revisión de los catálogos de “El Arte Islámico en el Mediterráneo”. Así mismo, ha realizado publicaciones sobre temas literarios y didácticos, ha dictado conferencias y ha participado en recitales poéticos.

Translation by: Laurence Nunny
Translation copyedited by: Monica Allen

MWNF Working Number: SP 31

RELATED CONTENT

Related monuments

 Artistic Introduction

 Timeline for this item

Islamic Dynasties / Period

Mudejar Art


On display in

Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)

The Muslim West | The Co-existence of Three Cultures

Download

As PDF (including images) As Word (text only)